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High severity fire likely to increasingly limit conifer forest recovery in Klamath region

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Study finds that wildfire in a warming climate could relegate portions of forested landscapes to shrubland

April 27 2017

The ability of some Western conifer forests to recover after severe fire may become increasingly limited as the climate continues to warm, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Harvard Forest found in a new study published in Global Change Biology. Although most of these cone-bearing evergreen trees are well adapted to fire, the study examines whether two likely facets of climate change — hotter, drier conditions and larger, more frequent and severe wildfires — could potentially transform landscapes from forested to shrub-dominated systems.

“The Klamath ecosystem is an important transition zone separating the shrubs of the California chaparral from the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforest,” says Jonathan Thompson, a Senior Ecologist at Harvard Forest and co-author on the study. “Our work suggests climate change will push the chaparral north at the expense of the Klamath’s existing conifer forests...

…”Our study helps to identify the places that are at greatest risk of forest loss, where managers could either target management to promote post-fire forest recovery, or accept that we’re going to see some degree of landscape transformation in the coming decades and learn to meet ecological objectives under the new climate and disturbance regimes,” says Alan Tepley, a forest ecologist with SCBI and the study’s lead author.

Alan J. Tepley, Jonathan R. Thompson, Howard E. Epstein, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira. Vulnerability to forest loss through altered postfire recovery dynamics in a warming climate in the Klamath Mountains. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13704

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